Ketil Bjørnstad returns to the UK

Pianist and composer Ketil Bjørnstad heads out on a UK tour this week.

Ketil Bjørnstad 2006

Ketil Bjørnstad's long-awaited, first UK tour draws on the jazz and classical canon as well as distinctive Nordic jazz soundscapes, and includes music from two of his much praised back catalogue; the evocative song cycle 'Seafarer’s Song' and an earlier piece, 'Before the Light' - as well as the music from his latest album.

Bjørnstad is joined by a stellar pool of European musicians including one of the UK’s premier saxophonists, Andy Sheppard, alongside Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen and the legendary Danish drummer Alex Riel as well as Eivind Aarset on guitar, Kristin Asbjørnsen with vocals, Svante Henryson on cello and Per Lindvall on drums – all key players in today's creative hotbed of Norwegian music.

Ketil Bjørnstad is a ‘cultural prodigy’ (John Fordham – The Guardian) in the Norwegian contemporary arts world, recognised as a remarkable and original composer/pianist, but also as a writer of novels, poetry and essays. Prolific and tirelessly inventive, he has recorded some 40 albums, including many on the ECM label and currently, Universal, and toured throughout the world.

Born in 1952, Bjørnstad was classically-trained, studying in London, Paris, and in his native Oslo. In 1969, he made his début as a soloist with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, playing Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3. A long series of solo performances and concerts with Norwegian orchestras followed. Bjørnstad was part of “a very strong milieu. There were many gifted Norwegian pianists. We discussed our plans together. I had felt, very early on, that I wanted most of all to be a composer. But then I found myself in conflict with the aesthetics of modern music.”
The Stockhausen/Boulez avant-garde was still in the ascendant. Bjørnstad admired much of that music but felt apart from it. Then he heard Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way: “an enormous experience for me.” Repercussions from this and from listening to Rypdal’s pre-ECM album Bleak House convinced him of the viability of other ways of listening and playing. He left the classical world behind.
“I sensed that the challenge of free, improvised music was greater than that of classical music and felt a strong yearning in that direction. This feeling clashed with the role of intermediary you have to adopt as a classical performer.”
The pianist closely monitored ECM’s inroads into Scandinavian music in the early 1970s, attended clubs, began to work with jazz players. “It was a very exciting time but I never felt like a jazz musician myself. I’ve never taken up the challenge of learning all the standards, and I’m not particularly well-informed about older forms of jazz. I started with Miles and worked back to the early 60s. Thelonious Monk is really the only one of the older jazz musicians whose work I’ve studied quite thoroughly. And Coltrane of course — his music is very important to me.” This much can be readily discerned from Water Stories: the spirit of the Coltrane of “Welcome” or “After The Rain” (more “water” music), hovers around some of the session — there is a comparable sense of concentrated expressiveness, a comparable building and release of tensions.
Bjørnstad first appeared on record in 1973 with a quartet that included ECM stalwarts Jon Christensen and Arild Andersen. He has since released around thirty recordings, including five albums of solo piano, several thematically unified “concept” albums, co-productions with rock musicians, musical settings of the writings of Knut Hamsun and John Donne, and much more…

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